"When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage." Acts 28: 15
It took a shipwreck to do it, but 100 days later Paul finally arrived in Rome. When the believers in Rome heard Paul was in town, they came to meet him. It had a powerful impact on his life.
The Bible doesn't record what the "brethren" said to Paul, when they met him in Rome. It just records that they came a good ways, and they were there. There is simply no substitute for the ministry of presence.
Over the past 40 years, I have conducted hundreds of funerals and weddings. Weddings are always preceded by counseling and rehearsals. The concept hasn't caught on for funerals. But I digress.
The Bride and The Groom usually arrive at the marriage counsel sessions with an increasing level of angst, at the growing details of THE WEDDING. At some point, I urge them to take a break from THE WEDDING, and focus on their marriage.
I have always tried to ratchet down the tension,and remind the couple that THE WEDDING and their marriage, though important, are not the same thing. I usually say to The Bride, "Don't get lost in the minutiae. People will remember two things about your wedding. They will recall they were there, and you were beautiful." To the groom, "Don't get annoyed by wedding plans. Just show up. You are going home with her after this is over." Everything else fades, from memory and significance.
Funerals always leave people with the question, "What do I say?" My counsel has often been, "You have said what needs to be said, by showing up." Less is more.
Being there is the key to encouragement in the lives of those in need of courage. Loneliness and isolation breed discouragement. Paul was not immune from the need to find fresh courage for the challenges in his life. Acts 28 is eloquent testimony to that need.
When Paul's long-delayed arrival to Rome took place, he was met by people who loved him, and identified with his condition. They weren't welcoming a conquering hero, but a prisoner of Roman justice. These nameless believers infused new courage into Paul, by showing up. The ministry of presence cannot be over-rated, and should never be under-valued.
Any preacher or pastor who has suffered with weekly bouts of encore anxiety, would do well to take a page out of Paul's prayer book. When Paul saw who showed up, he thanked God for them. Too often preachers look at empty chairs, and not the ones that are filled. When they do so, they fail to thank God for the people who showed up. This rarely leads to a message that encourages people to come back again.
This simple verse of Scripture may hold the key to the health of the local church. The people showed up, and the preacher thanked God. An encouraged preacher breathed the fresh air of Heaven. He took courage when he was met by people who heard Heaven call them to show up, when the preacher needed them the most.
Acts 28 gives a beautiful picture of the delicate balance that comes into the life of a church when preacher and people are exactly where God intends for them to be. Paul showed up in Rome. The people met him there. Prayers of gratitude were lifted up to God. Courage from Heaven filled Paul's heart. The result of Paul's infusion of courage has been his capacity to write letters that encouraged and edified the church then, and now.
Sunday is coming. Pray for your preacher. He needs your prayers, and you need the practice. Show up at church. Your preacher needs the courage to deliver what God has for him to say. You need to hear what he has to say. Don't just show up. Be prayed up. The ministry of presence and the ministry of prayer lead to powerful preaching and a powerful church. TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!